The Pirates and Braves offense traded jabs early on in what proved to be a matchup of two struggling pitchers, but Jared Hughes allowed a two-run homer to Evan Gattis late in the game that gave the Braves a decisive 6-4 lead.
In the first five innings, it felt like there was a homer about every 10 minutes, as Jeff Locke and Julio Teheran allowed three apiece. B.J. Upton came first with a solo shot to lead off the game. The Bucs tied it in the bottom of the inning when Travis Snider walked, moved to third on Andrew McCutchen's double, and came home on Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly. The following inning, the Bucs went up 2-1 when Russell Martin hit his first home run of the year.
The Braves re-took the lead in the third when Justin Upton walked and Chris Johnson hit a two-run homer. In the fourth, though, the Pirates tied it with a ridiculous 448-foot home run by Pedro Alvarez to the batter's eye. In the fifth, though, Justin Upton homered, his ninth of the year. (Yes, nine home runs, about as many as the Pirates have as a team. There's a Twitter account about it, in case you're wondering.)
Ultimately, Locke went 4.2 innings, striking out three and walking four while allowing those three home runs.
"First-pitch strikes were good, and then after that, there's some sequences that are sharp, but there's too many misses," Clint Hurdle said.
In the fifth, Snider reached base for the third time that game with a double, and Jones hit a double of his own to tie the game, 4-4.
Justin Wilson pitched the sixth (coming out ahead in a memorable 13-pitch at-bat against Reed Johnson), and then Clint Hurdle brought in Jared Hughes in the seventh. Hughes struck out two, but didn't have much command. My main impression of the inning was that Russell Martin looked great receiving all those pitches in the dirt. So I was surprised to see Hughes come back out for the eighth after the Pirates failed to score in the bottom of the inning.
"Jared's got to try to find his way back to what we've seen in the past. It's been kind of come-and-go so far this season," Hurdle said. "Been behind in too many counts, first-pitch strikes aren't where they need to be."
If Hurdle knew that, of course, it begs the question of why he sent Hughes out for that second inning. It seemed like a dubious decision at the time, and it quickly looked worse when Hughes walked Andrelton Simmons and then gave up Gattis' two-run shot on a 2-0 count.
"I didn't get ahead, and that's the major fault," said Hughes.
That was a bad spot to allow a homer, because Teheran was out of the game at that point and Atlanta's very capable bullpen had taken over. It was a bit like Hurdle's saving-the-closer decisions last year, although in this case he was saving setup man Mark Melancon to protect a lead (or for extra innings, maybe?) that might never come. In this case, the Atlanta bullpen was too much for the Pirates. Anthony Varvaro pitched two scoreless innings, Eric O'Flaherty handled the eighth, and Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth.
-P- Starling Marte struck out all five times he came to the plate for the Pirates.
-P- Vin Mazzaro made his Pirates debut, pitching a scoreless ninth.
David Manel contributed to this post.